February 8, 2008

No Problem is too BIG

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Jeff Hawkins, who is arguably one of the most brilliant people on the planet... and this is not an exaggeration. What I love most about Jeff is his drive to solve amazingly daunting problems. For example, he became passionate about how the brain works - specifically the neocortex - and taught himself neuroscience on the side, while running Palm and Handspring. He came up with some very compelling theories and wrote a book, called On Intelligence, that summarizes his ideas. He didn't stop there... He started a company, Numenta, to build computers based upon this theories. It appears to be working. Despite the fact that he is not a formally trained scientist, he was asked to give one of the keynote addresses to the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting last November. The room was filled with over 5,000 neuroscientists. Now, that is pretty amazing!

But, Jeff has not stopped there. He is also fascinated with the nature of time, and has some fascinating ideas that I am not going to embarrass myself by trying to explain. He is also intrigued by the idea of creating brand new "senses". He reminded me of a story in his book about a scientist who helped blind people experience the world by placing a camera on their foreheads and putting an array of tiny stimulators on their tongues. The tongue was chosen because of the density of sensory receptors. Within a short time, the blind person could "see" the world with his or her tongue!

Jeff is interested in finding out if you could take this concept to the next level. What if you created a device, like a glove that senses the world and transmits that information to an array of stimulators on the fingertips, which also have a very high density of sensors. (Imagine, a small camera on the each of the ten fingertips turns them into ten eyes!) A person could wave his or her hand in different ways to "see" the world. It would be fun to speculate about using different types of sensors: What if they responded to infrared light so that you could see like a snake, or ultraviolet light so that you could see like a bird. This might be valuable for people with normal vision in addition to those who are blind. Jeff is so interested in this idea that he if trying figure out how to motivate others to work on this. If you have some ideas, let me know.

You can watch video clips of Jeff talking about a bunch of his ventures on the STVP Educators Corner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a direct link to Jeff Hawkins on Educators Corner.